1321. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 12 May 1807

1321. Robert Southey to Mary Barker, 12 May 1807 ⁠* 

I humbly beg leave to suggest Senhora that it is much more expedient both for your health & spirits, & for my improvements that you should be at Greta Hall than that you should be lodging in London; – that it will cost you less to travel here than to stay there; – that if you are for modelling my nose, here is the living one which is better than any picture, – & that Mr Jackson is making bricks of excellent clay, which may very likely do for other purposes also. London & Little Masters & Great Masters are all very expensive, – & besides it is not good for woman to be alone (any more than man) when she is not disposed to be in the best good spirits. So be pleased when you leave Hampstead to set your face this way.

You will perceive that this was written before the arrival of yours this evening, which has been a very welcome letter, as indicating your own wiser projects, & as giving us some news of Hartley, which will be much relief to Mrs Wilson. Good woman she has been earnestly & anxiously looking to hear what was become of him, which his mother at Bristol did not know – & Heaven knows when we should have known but for your chance mention of him.

My brother Harry is in a merchant ship on his way to Lisbon. But if you want a young man, with a good face & a good voice to introduce to your cousins, take compassion upon the Count, who is to be found at 42 Princess Street Leicester Square, working now really very hard, & I am afraid out of health & nearly out of spirits. If you were to pay him a visit, – as you are in the way of visiting gentlemen, I think it would set him in a good humour for a week.

The accounts of Mrs Peachy are better than I expected, the news is that she & her imperial husband are to be here in June, with what female companion I know not. You should if possible by any manner of means come early in June, that you many may see the glorious sunsets behind Skiddaw, before midsummer, of which you can have no conception.

I do not know any kickmanjiggery [1]  which we stand in need of – except it be two bell handles of spar one for my room, one for the parlour, which already begun to look happy, tho the paperring is at a stand till a farther supply arrives, & none of the bordering is put up. – I have broken the ivory knife you gave me, – & this is all I can think of in the way of commissions.

Coleridge as you remark has been in Italy, – & by way of showing it he made a point of always addressing Anne [2]  by the name of Anna – saying it was not affectation, but he had been so long accustomed to speak Italian that he could not help using the a. I told him I was quite aware that this must be the reason, & gravely explained to my brother Tom how natural it was! – I should however have thought more of his judgement in pictures if I had not known that before he went abroad he had no love of them & pretended to none, & if I had not heard him speak of Duppas heads in terms which even before me were unwarrantable strong, & when I was not in the room became in the highest degree contemptuous & abusive. There are few men with whom I have so many intellectual points of contact as with C. & none with whom my habits, feelings, morals, & affections are in more direct & almost hostile contrariety. We are so utterly opposite in all the outward & visible signs of men, & in the inward & spiritual grace as well, that in my conscience I do not believe any person whom we both know likes the one, without at the same time not liking, or positively disliking the other. We are north & south & if the needle of any ones affections point to the one, it must necessarily turn tail to the other. – Strange, for two men who have been so closely connected by their opinions, – & who at this time more nearly agree in opinion upon all subjects with each other than they do with any body else: – saving upon the subject of divorce & the Trinity, – the former he defends because it gives him an opportunity of letting people know he is unhappily married as Milton was before him, – & the latter he affects to believe – for the sake of making people wonder, & exhibiting the wonderful acuteness of his mind, which loves to make even absurdities appear reasonable. [3] 

The small edition of Madoc is on the point of publication. [4]  of the first I have heard nothing since my returns of 3–17–1. & in these cases no news means no sale. Don Manuel is at the Printers mercy, who promises good speed at last, & begins to use it. he has long had the whole copy, – & it will still be five weeks – at his fastest rate, before it appears in the world. [5]  There Senhora will be something for you to smile at. Rickman says it will be a famous common sense book, & I think Rickmans common sense opinions, thoroughly sound & thoroughly sensible as they always are, worth more than those of almost any, or every body, else. I have had no room for any thing about music or painting. But if this book sells my friend shall travel again – my memory & mind are not half discharged of their load. [6]  Other news is that Palmerin [7]  that is my part of it will be compleated this week; it will be published about the same time as Espriella, or perhaps sooner.

Will you bring your god-daughter a box of Tunbridge ware. plain – i.e. without any paint. This letter has been left unfinished since last night for the sake of recollecting commissions. They are as follows. 1. some cardfish [8]  – 3 dozen flat fish (I known not under what genus to class them) – & one dozen round or square ones, to serve as whist-markers, & as half-dozens at other games. 2dly – Do you remember my ivory tablets which spread like a fan? They have long since been broken & I in consequence long in want of what really was highly useful to me in my walks. You may chuse them either with ivory or tortoise-shell covers at your own taste. They are old-fashioned things, & to be got I believe only at the same shops where they sell chess-men & ivory tackle of other kinds. – Thirdly – any kind of kickwomanjiggery [9]  necessary for the completion of certain card boxes & not procurable here, fourthly – a stand of cruets or crewits for heavens knows the orthography of the word. this is an awkward thing to send for, but one cannot get it here – the plainer & cheaper the better – one of the red-leather ones. & lastly an urn-rug if such things are to be bought, or if not, the materials for working one, this being a thing of the first necessity. – There Senhora is a mornings work-full of commissions for you. – We are beginning to make our habitation decent, looking upon it now as a resting place, & little by little to get every thing decent about us.

Now the sooner you come the better – the earlier in June the finer will be the sunsets – & of these (I repeat it) neither you nor any body can form any conception. The earlier you come the more useful will you be at home in a wet day, & the later may you stay out sketching on a fine evening. Coleridges study will be at your service tho I suppose the Beaumonts will try to take up their lodgement with Jackson if they purpose making any stay at Keswick. This however is not very likely, as I believe I am no very great favorite, & not likely to become so. My Lady the first time I saw her put out the horns of her amiability full butt against me – like a snail after a shower, – upon which the horns of my agrea-beauness instinctively drew in, & I got into my shell: & a plaguey rough shell I dare say she thinks it. And there I sat, when last in town I dined with them one day, open mouthed as an oyster at ebb, & as silent too, being in truth miserably ill. But Senhora I have a good faculty of not talking much to people whom I am not fond of, – now & then indeed, the Devil has tempted me with his damned Ephthatha, [10]  but not very often, & not very lately – & I defy him & all his works.

A Deos –


Tuesday May 12. 1807.


* Address: To/ Miss Barker/ with Thomas Wilson Esqr/ Hampstead/ near London
Postmark: 10 o’clock MY 15 1807 F.N.
MS: MS untraced; text is taken from Robert Galloway Kirkpatrick, ‘The Letters of Robert Southey to Mary Barker From 1800 to 1826’ (unpublished PhD, Harvard, 1967), pp. 232–238. BACK

[1] Southey’s own word for decoration of his house. BACK

[2] Perhaps a servant at Greta Hall. BACK

[3] Coleridge had returned from Malta and Italy determined upon a separation from his wife, Sarah, and having become a Trinitarian. BACK

[4] The second, duodecimo, edition of Madoc appeared in 1807. BACK

[5] Letters from England by Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella. Translated from the Spanish (1807) was being printed by Richard Taylor (1781–1858; DNB). BACK

[6] There were only three editions of Letters from England (1807, 1808 and 1814). Southey never expanded the first edition nor followed it up with a sequel, and Miss Barker’s information on music and painting was never used. BACK

[7] Palmerin of England; by Francisco de Moraes. Corrected by Robert Southey from the Original Portugueze (1807). BACK

[8] Small metal counters used in various card games. BACK

[9] Meaning fancy work, or decorative materials. BACK

[10] Mark 7:34 – ‘And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha”, which is “be opened”’. BACK

Places mentioned

Greta Hall/ Greeta Hall (mentioned 2 times)
Skiddaw (mentioned 1 time)
Keswick (mentioned 1 time)